Opposing Voices

One of the highlights of the 1995 Toronto Film Festival, Georgia tells the story of two sisters— one sings, the other tries to—locked in a love-hate symbiosis of unacknowledged rivalry that threatens to destroy at least one of them. Directed by Ulu Grosbard (Straight Time, True Confessions) with the lingering attention to emotional detail of a good psychological novel, the movie stars Mare Winningham as a happily married Seattle folk-rock singer whose honeyed voice and stable temperament have brought her the mainstream success that eludes her younger sister. A desperate scrap of a thing with raccoon eyes, a roaring drug habit, and a Joplin rasp that barely keeps her employed at the low end of the punk-rock club scene, Sadie (hauntingly played by the endlessly versatile Jennifer Jason Leigh) shuttles between generosity and resentment, between trying to be her sister and holding fast to her own wild-card, inventive style. In the waves of love, pain, and rage that surge between the two sisters, it becomes clear that the Georgia of the movie’s title is less the older sister herself than an idea of her, swollen into obsession, that casts a giant shadow over Sadie’s life. The film is thrilling in its ambition, poised and tactful in its execution (we come to know the characters not merely through what they say but through how they act when least self-aware), and almost unbearably moving in the performances of Leigh and Winningham, both of whom sing their own vocals. John Doe and Max Perlich also shine as Sadie’s former lover and straight-arrow husband respectively.

Ella Taylor is a film critic for LA Weekly.